I can remember being 13 years old, sitting on the floor of my living room, acting out a scene with two Barbies and a couple of Strawberry Shortcake dolls. (They were all friends!) It was right at a time when the other girls in my class were starting to talk about boys and sex, and wearing high-heels and frosted lip gloss. I distinctly remember sitting on that floor, and realizing that this was the last time I would ever 'play' with these dolls. Even at that young age, I was painfully aware, I would never be able to escape into the beautiful dream world that my little box of dolls offered me.
But for some, dolls and the powerful fantasy world they represent don't have to be boxed up and put away after childhood.
Recently screen at the Austin Film Festival, Maureen Judge's documentary 'Living Dolls' follows the lives of four ordinary people— folks just like you and me! Except they all have a fuckton of dolls they collect and obsess tirelessly over.
Mike, a gay man living with parents, turned to dolls as a means to express is sexual identity, which were both hidden secrets from his family. Now, accepted by his mother but not his father, Mike is an out-and-proud Barbie collector. So take that, haters.
For Debbie, dolls became a way to deal with loneliness when she found herself isolated from a family increasingly drawn to video games and online activities. Now, collectible Ellowyne dolls practically dominate her life and have taxed her family's financial resources.
The filmmaker discusses what she learned during the film's production:
Maureen Judge: I didn’t really have a specific perspective [at first]. In the process of making Living Dolls, I realized that the dolls were more than a toy for my subjects.Because dolls are in the form of a human being, they are safe places to our project dreams, desires and hidden selves…For some, such as Mike, the Barbie collector, the dolls take him back to the innocence and comfort of childhood where there were no rules or societal pressures around sexuality. As a young child, he could be whom he wanted to be when he played with Barbie. It wasn’t until later in life when he was openly gay that he could bring Barbie back out.